After hiking 5.1 miles in the Penhas Douradas region of the Serra da Estrela Nature Park the previous day, we enjoyed a leisurely 5th day on our Mountain Travel Sobek hiking tour to historic villages in Portugal. Today, we visited the highest point in mainland Portugal, hiked from Foz d’Égua to Piódão, and dined in an old Palace in Lousã where we stayed for the evening.
Upon leaving Casa das Penhas Douradas, our driver maneuvered our Sprinter Van, complete with USB charging stations, along the winding mountain road. We enjoyed the beautiful views, while he focused on the two-lane passage.
Torre: The Highest Point in Mainland Portugal
Soon, we reached the highest point in mainland Portugal, marked by a tower (torre) in Serra da Estrela Nature Park. The peak is 1,993 meters and the tower is 7 meters, so they can say the highest point is 2,000 meters tall! In addition to the tower, there was a chapel, a souvenir and cheese shop, as well as a restaurant.
At first, I was taken aback by the commercialization, but then I realized we were visiting Portugal’s only ski resort. Having lived in Colorado for eleven years, I needed to adjust my bearings. Once I likened Serra da Estrela to ski resorts in Colorado rather than to its highest points, known as 14ers, which all but two must be reached by hiking miles over rugged terrain, it made a lot of sense.
How nice to be at the top of Portugal with some amenities! We only spent about 30 minutes on the summit, which is more like a plateau with a roundabout and tower in its center. Most of the group visited the souvenir and cheese shop. I abandoned the popular choice and wandered to the edges of the plateau as the wind blasted my face. The wind facial was worth the spectacular views.
Hike From Foz d’Égua to Piódão
From the top of mainland Portugal, we descended to Foz d’Égua. Foz d’Égua is a schist village perched on a terraced hillside overlooking the meeting of two streams. A quaint, double arched stone bridge spans the two streams, connecting the village. The streams form a popular swimming pool among locals. Above the idyllic spot is a suspension bridge that tempts adventurous souls. Unfortunately, it is not safe to cross.
That said, it is safe to follow the lovely, cliffside trail to Piódão. The 1.5-mile one-way hike beneath a eucalyptus forest affords picturesque views of the valley beneath terraced hillsides dotted with abandoned hamlets. Along the way, we learned of the true love story between Prince Peter and Inês de Castro, a handmaid.
Prince Peter and Inês de Castro Love Affair
Prince Peter had a love affair with a commoner, the handmaid to his wife, Princess Constance. Upon the early death of Princess Constance, Prince Peter confessed his love to Inês de Castro which enraged his father, Kind Alfonso IV. The King wished to maintain noble bloodlines, exiled Inês and ultimately had her assassinated.
Once Peter ascended the throne, he avenged her death. It is said that he had her body exhumed, crowned her and required all nobility to kiss her hand. Additionally, he ordered the execution of the three assassins. Two gruesomely had their hearts removed in public, while the third, Álvaro Gonçalves Pacheco, escaped and hid in the isolated village of Piódão. Thus, the reason many residents of the town have the surname Pacheco.
I can’t speak to the surnames Pacheco, but I can say Piódão might have been the most picturesque of the 12 historic villages of Portugal designated by the government. I know, I likely said the same thing upon visiting Monsanto and again while strolling through Sortelha. But the historic villages just kept getting better!
After a picnic lunch beneath the shade trees, we explored Piódão in our own free time. Narrow pathways and uneven shist stairs climb by the shops, restaurants, and homes. Nailed above the many blue doors are wooden crosses made of bay trees. They are blessed to ward off evil spirits. The charming schist village perched on the terraced hillside is a perfect peaceful getaway. Not only did we all love its up-close charm and atmosphere, but also its beauty from a distant overlook.
After our all too short visit to Piódão, we continued our journey to Lousã, a town in the district of Coimbra where we stayed the evening in a palace. With a population of over 17,600, Lousã can’t compete with the charm of the schist villages.
However, our dinner and stay in the historic Palácio da Lousã Boutique Hotel was a nice treat! The hotel is the refurbished 18th century Palace of Viscondessa do Espinhal. Its hallways and guest rooms feature a lot of cycling décor as Lousã is a popular destination for mountain biking.
The upper salons and dining areas provide a more ornate and castle-like feeling. The 4-star hotel offers excellent service, a variety of events, and delicious dining. Not only did we enjoy a divine meal in a fancy dining room, but also we relaxed with drinks on an outdoor patio, and dug into a fantastic breakfast buffet the following morning. It was a nice final night in the mountains of central Portugal before our final hike and return to Lisbon the following day.
In all, we had a pleasurable day visiting the highest point in mainland Portugal, hiking from Foz d’Égua to Piódão, and relaxing in a historic palace in Lousã! ETB
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